In a recent article published in The Guardian, Kevin Parker mentioned a ride in a friend’s old sedan, where he, coked out of his mind and also on mushrooms, had a musical epiphany of sorts when ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by The Bee Gees came on, prompting him to move even further away from the psych-rock tag he’s been stuck with since we first heard ‘Half Full Glass Of Wine’ back in 2008. Then the press were all ‘Tame Impala take drugs OMG’ for a second and then they went back to talking about the crazy ‘stylistic shift’ of Currents like nobody has ever made dance-able rock before and like Mr. Parker has recently discovered this ‘dance music’ that the kids are all listening to. You know, like they’ve actually been doing in the UK for literally generations.
And then today, I listened the whole album for the first time, and it turns out that Currents is more Thriller than it is Screamadelica, or indeed, Loveless, which a few early reviews have likened it to. There are some echoes of MBV here, particularly of that band’s self-title 2013 comeback, but I think it’s pretty coincidental, a drum beat here or a melody there but that’s it. Parker’s wearing his heart (and his soul) on his sleeve the whole time here to an extent to which Mr. Shields and co have never done. It’s an R&B album in the purest, early ’80-est way possible, although not without a generous helping of the phasing and reverb that you’d expect to hear from Tame Impala. So it’s still a psych album as well.
Going by ‘Let It Happen’, the 8-minute first single from the album that dropped back in April, sounded like, I was fully expecting Currents to be dominated by alt-dance jams, reminiscent of a hypothetical Andrew Weatherall-Keven Parker collaboration, in a similar vein to ‘Let It Happen’, rather than the slower, moodier R&B of the subsequent single ‘Cause I’m A Man’. ‘Let It Happen’ is just the party that changed everything for Parker, the whirlwind of stardom and critical acclaim, and everything that’s made him ‘a brand new person’, which if there was one, would be the overarching theme of the album, if you absolutely had to put a concept to it. It’s not though it isn’t danceable, and the dance influences that Parker’s mentioned in recent interviews pop their heads up everywhere, but these are songs, and for the most part, concisely structured ones, and not bangers by any sense of the word. I can’t believe I just said bangers.
So, sound-wise much of what we have here is a pastiche of the best bits of R&B from the ’70s until now, with healthy doses of 80s synthpop, and, surprisingly or perhaps unsurprisingly, Giorgio Moroder in soundtrack mode, particularly on ‘Disciples’, ‘Past Life’, ‘Reality in Motion’, ‘Nangs’ and the short interlude ‘Gossip’. There’s barely a guitar to be heard anywhere on Currents, in the traditional sense at least. I assume, as was the case with Lonerism, that some of the synth sounds are heavily-processed guitars, which might lose the band a few of their rocker fans, but isn’t a melody a melody, regardless of what it’s played – especially on an album like this, where just about every instrument has been fed through all kinds of effects anyway? Despite the loose curveball of a jam that was ‘Let It Happen’, almost everything else on here is very concise, and it would seem carefully so. There’s not a dud in sight on Currents. There are top notch pop hooks throughout, far too many for me to list here, although things might get a little same-y for more casual listeners. In keeping with Parker’s love of ambient sound, ‘Yes I’m Changing’ features some beeping car horns that will no doubt have drivers looking over their shoulder, and ‘Past Life’ is punctuated by pitch-modulated recordings of (presumably) Parker speaking about the mundanities of life, love and friendship, ending poignantly with a ‘hello’ from a woman’s voice.
To me, the direction in which Tame Impala goes with Currents makes perfect sense. It’s the logical next step and it’s still unmistakably Kevin Parker’s work. Since their first EP, their music has always had some vaguely dance/R&B undertones to it and has, at times, overtly flirted with it. Remember this cover song? Or for that matter….get some decent headphones and have a listen to the bass and drums on most of Innerspeaker and Lonerism and hopefully everything that I’m saying here won’t sound too crazy.
I’m sure there will be plenty of dyed-in-the-wool, Kyuss-shirted ponytail rock dudes that will complain about how the only favourite band that they have in common with non-metalheads has lost its way and sold out, to the complete ignorance of the masses, but this was inevitable, you fucking Philistines. I’ve noticed that the handful of not-so-great reviews of Currents that I’ve seen in the last few days were due to the general lack of guitars….horses for courses I guess, but come on. Free your minds and your asses will follow.
To sum up….I like everything about this album. I was expecting a bit of a letdown, but nope. Not at all. Currents is as good as Lonerism.
Best tracks: ‘Cause I’m A Man’, ‘Eventually’, ‘Past Life’, ‘Disciples’.
If you like: Breathing.